New state law gives sexual assault, abuse victims more time to seek justice

January 29, 2020 | 10:21 am


The new year brings with it a new law in California allowing victims of childhood sexual assault more time to file lawsuits, and seek justice.

Assembly Bill 218 gives victims of childhood sexual abuse either until age 40 or five years from discovery of the abuse to file civil lawsuits. The previous limit had been 26, or within three years from discovery of the abuse. It also allows victims of all ages three years to bring claims that would have otherwise been barred due to existing statutes.

“Abuse victims are grateful to get a shot at justice through this new law without a stringent time limit,” said managing partner and attorney David Cohn, who has represented many victims of sexual abuse through his work at the Law Office of Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “It’s important for victims to come forward when they are ready, and ultimately protect our community from future abuse, and obtain accountability.”

Specifically, the new law is a game-changer for childhood victims because it changes how survivors are treated and supported.

In recent years, allegations of sexual abuse have been voiced by victims and conveyed through media reports from Olympic teams, school children, Boy Scouts, and Catholic churchgoers, with media highlighted such allegations. We’ve seen an uprising of women (and men, too) who have gone public with their stories of sexual harassment, assault and abuse, and systemic sexism, particularly in the world of Hollywood.

In fact, the California Catholic Conference in a statement to media described sexual abuse by members of the clergy as a “legacy of shame.”

“It is a legacy of shame for all of us in the Church, and we are aware that nothing can undo the violence done to victim-survivors or restore the innocence and trust that was taken from them,” the statement read. “Ultimately, our hope is that all victim-survivors of childhood sexual abuse in all institutional settings will be able to have their pain and suffering addressed and resolved and so our prayers are that AB 218 will be a step forward in that direction.”

California is at least the third state this year to pass such a law, according to reports. Earlier this year, New York and New Jersey raised their statutes of limitations to age 55. New York also suspended its statute of limitations for one year, leading to hundreds of lawsuits against hospitals, schools, the Roman Catholic Church and the late financier Jeffrey Epstein.

“This law puts powerful institutions like the Catholic hierarchy, public schools and sports leagues on notice that they cannot allow predators to molest children, cover up their crimes and escape responsibility,” said Matt Clark, senior partner and attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has been involved in several lawsuits in recent years in representing victims of sexual abuse and sex assault:

  • Our attorneys filed lawsuits in federal court against the County of Kern and a juvenile corrections officer on behalf of a young woman who were sexually abused at juvenile hall.
  • Our lawyers also filed claims on behalf of several students who were victims of sexual misconduct at North High School. Kern County Sheriff’s Office has arrested Edwin Rodriguez on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with minors 14 to 15 years old, exhibiting harmful matter to a minor, annoying a child under 18 and false imprisonment.
  • Chain | Cohn | Stiles represented Karen Frye, who was sexually molested at Lerdo Jail by a Kern County Sheriff’s Department detentions deputy. The law firm filed suit against the county for civil rights violations, conspiracy, sexual assault and battery, negligence, fraud, breach of contract and excessive use of force. The department also attempted to “buy off” Frye by offering her $1,500 in exchange for her agreement to not sue the department. That case settled for $300,000.
  • We represented a woman who was sexually assaulted by Kern County deputy Gabriel Lopez in her home in Tehachapi. Lopez sexually assaulted at least two other people as well. He pleaded no contest to two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of sexual battery, and was sentenced to two years in prison. Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys also represented a 79-year-old woman who called the sheriff’s office during a dispute with her husband, who was diagnosed with late-stage Alzheimer’s. She, too, was sexually assaulted by Lopez in a similar fashion to his other victims. The third victim was quietly paid $5,000 by the department, and was unable to bring a civil claim.

In addition, the partners at Chain | Cohn | Stiles penned a “Community Voices” article, calling on the County of Kern to cease practices that call for confidential settlements in lawsuits pertaining to victims of sexual assault, as well as paying “hush money” to those victims.

Here’s what you can do if you’ve been sexually assaulted or abused:

  • Call for help: Always call the police, a rape hotline or both following any form of sexual assault or abuse. This can be difficult to do, but the sooner you get in touch with someone, the sooner justice can be served.
  • See a doctor: Seek immediate medical care following a rape or sexual abuse scenario. Hospitals often have specialists trained to help in these types of situations and they often have someone on staff that can help with the stress.
  • Contact an attorney: After you have taken all the aforementioned steps, contact a legal professional, who has understanding of sexual abuse law.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, or sexually abused or assaulted by someone in authority, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

‘Community Voices’ article calls for end of non-transparent practices in sexual assault cases

August 10, 2016 | 9:37 am


The partners at Chain | Cohn | Stiles have penned a “Community Voices” article, calling on the County of Kern to cease practices that call for confidential settlements in lawsuits pertaining to victims of sexual assault, as well as paying “hush money” to those victims. The article was printed Sunday, Aug. 7, in The Bakersfield Californian, which you can read in the newspaper version here as well, or read below.

For media coverage on relevant and recent sexual assault cases represented by the Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, scroll to the bottom of the page.

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County’s non-transparent practices in sexual assault cases need to end

By the Partners at Chain | Cohn | Stiles

One of the fundamental tenets of democracy is the concept of transparency in government. Unfortunately, for years the County of Kern has attempted to cover up instances of sexual assault and misconduct by County law enforcement personnel.

Government transparency promotes accountability and transforms citizens into public watchdogs. For there to be effective public oversight of government, our citizens must be able to freely access information about the decisions their government makes. This includes the right to know how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent, especially when that money is being used to compensate victims of sexual assault.

Kern County’s pattern and practice of insisting on confidential settlements with victims of sexual assault flies in the face of transparency in government. If a County law enforcement official sexually assaults an innocent victim, then we as taxpayers have an absolute right to know about it. We have a right to know how it happened, why it happened, and what, if anything, is being done to ensure that it never happens again. Confidentiality does nothing to prevent sexual assault from occurring again; it is adverse to public policy and can allow the wrongful conduct to continue. But when the public is made aware of these wrongful acts, and the settlements that follow, it has the effect of exposing sexual predators and lax departmental policies, with the hope that curbing future wrongful conduct will become an obvious priority for the County.

The only part of a settlement in sexual assault cases that should remain confidential is the identity of the victim. Protecting their identities encourages victims to come forward without fear of retaliation or humiliation.  Making the settlement terms publicly known while keeping the identity of victims confidential strikes the right balance between open government and protecting the dignity of victims.

The County’s well-documented practice of paying “hush money” to victims, however, is far from dignified. Even though County officials in news stories have described this practice as “nothing unusual,” and defended it as a “common practice throughout the United States,” it is far from common and it is neither morally nor ethically sound. The payment program is an acceptable practice in the context of resolving small claims for property damage, but is far from appropriate in the context of fairly compensating victims of sexual assault. To even suggest that the two are somehow equivalent is dehumanizing and demeaning to victims of sexual assault.

Approaching unrepresented victims of sexual misconduct with small stacks of cash at their homes shortly after they have been sexually assaulted is wrong, particularly where the perpetrator and fixer both hail from the same public entity. Perhaps more importantly, this practice runs afoul of our commitment to transparency and accountability, because it has the effect of sweeping sexual misconduct under the rug, without the public ever knowing about it.

One county official insisted to local media that confidential settlements have “nothing to do with transparency,” and criticized our law firm for being guardians of the public trust. We don’t take that as a criticism – we embrace it as our commitment to our community.

It’s time for the County to put an end to this abhorrent practice.

— Chain | Cohn | Stiles is a Bakersfield-based injury and workers’ compensation law firm. The partners include David Cohn, James Yoro, Matthew Clark and Neil Gehlawat.

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RELATED MEDIA COVERAGE

 

OTHER CHAIN | COHN | STILES SEXUAL ASSAULT CASES

Chain | Cohn | Stiles represents victims in deputy sexual assault cases

September 9, 2015 | 8:36 am


Two years ago, three women in Tehachapi thought that when a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy came to their homes, they would be safe and protected. Instead, they were subjected to traumatic experiences when they were sexually assaulted at the hands of former deputy Gabriel Lopez.

Lopez pleaded no contest to two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of sexual battery. In support of two victims represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, attorneys David Cohn and Neil Gehlawat attended Lopez’s sentencing recently where Lopez’s victims spoke.

Lopez forced one woman to disrobe, after responding to a reported burglary at her home. In another case, Lopez took the woman into a back room and sexually assaulted her, she told the court. Now, she said, she fears law enforcement and is afraid to ask for help if something goes wrong.

“Apologies are nice, but they can’t change what happened and how it affected someone’s life,” she told Judge John S. Somers before his sentencing, according to The Bakersfield Californian.

Somers said Lopez was in a position of power and trust, and therefore rendered his victims powerless against him. If they fought against him, he had the power to have them arrested.

In the end, Somers denied Lopez’s request for felony probation and sentenced him to two years in prison. He will also have to register as a sex offender when he is released.

After the sentencing, the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles spoke with local media about the sexual assault civil case.

“Today at least some justice has been served,” Neil Gehlawat told Eyewitness News after the sentencing. “And I think she can sleep better tonight knowing that this man who did these horrible things to her will be in prison now for two years.”

Attorney David K. Cohn told Bakersfield media that the client who was present at sentencing was relieved Lopez received a prison term, but thinks he deserved more than two years. At a press conference in 2013 announcing the lawsuit, Cohn described Lopez as a “predator” and a “sexual deviant.”

“How does a person like this get through the system?” he asked. “How does he become a sworn officer?”

The civil lawsuit is ongoing.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles also represents two females who were sexually assaulted in separate incidents by Kern County Juvenile Corrections officers while the girls were housed at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

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If you or someone you know has been the victim of police misconduct or sexual assault at the hands of someone in authority, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling 661-323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.